The House of Representatives will not get President Donald Trump’s financial records for now, the Supreme Court said on Monday.
The ruling is a win for Trump, who is fighting on several fronts to shield the records from becoming public.
In a brief order, the court granted the President’s emergency request to block a subpoena from House Democrats to his long-time accounting firm from moving forward. There were no noted dissents.
Chief Justice John Roberts and the other eight justices will now have to decide whether to hear the merits in a thorny dilemma that would require them to determine the extent of Congress’ oversight authority. This first major separation-of-powers test of the high court, as other potential impeachment-related issues head its way, offers a challenge to a chief justice who has tried to protect the judiciary from the politicking of the day.
Lower courts had ruled against the President’s claims that the subpoena violated the separation of powers, instead holding that the House could pursue the documents as part of its legitimate legislative function.
Trump’s personal lawyers have argued that the House’s request was an “unprecedented” demand for his personal papers. It is a strong signal that the court is interested in ultimately taking up the case and issuing a message on Congress’ investigatory power and an executive’s refusal to turn over documents.
The justices set up an expedited briefing schedule to hear arguments from both sides on whether the court should agree to hear Trump’s appeal this term. The President must file his opening brief on or before December 5.
The House has said it could move forward with an impeachment vote by the end of December.
Monday’s order “is a short-term victory for President Trump,” said CNN Supreme Court analyst and University of Texas School of Law Professor Steve Vladeck. “But by requiring the President to file his appeal by next Thursday, the justices have also ensured that, if they choose to take his case on the merits, they’ll be able to do so before the end of their current term next June.”
At the same time, Vladeck said, the order “tells us very little about how they’re actually going to rule.”
The House case arises from a subpoena issued by the House Oversight Committee last April to Trump’s long-time accounting firm, Mazars USA, requesting documents it said would be relevant to the committee’s investigation concerning, among other subjects, whether the President had undisclosed conflicts of interest.
A federal appeals court ruled against the president on October 11 holding that it detected “no inherent constitutional flaw in laws requiring Presidents to publicly disclose certain financial information,” the court added that the challenged subpoena seeks information that could lead Congress to change or amend its financial disclosure laws.
After the ruling came down, Trump’s personal lawyers raced to the Supreme Court asking it to put the subpoena on hold while it prepared to ask the justices to take up the case this term.
“Given the temptation to dig up dirt on political rivals, intrusive subpoenas into personal lives of presidents will become our new normal in times of divided government — no matter which party is in power,” Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for the President, argued in court papers. “If every committee chairman is going to have this unbounded authority, this Court should be the one to say so.”
House General Counsel Douglas Letter fired back. “This Court has long recognized that Congress’s power to conduct oversight and investigations — a power of inquiry, with process to enforce it — is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function,” he argued.
Letter said the subpoena is necessary to “shed light on the accuracy of President Trump’s disclosures, and thereby to inform the Committee’s oversight of the Executive Branch and its consideration of remedial legislation.”
The justices are also reviewing a similar case concerning a subpoena from a Manhattan district attorney seeking Trump’s tax returns.
By Ariane de Vogue, CNN Supreme Court Reporter